INTEGRATING the top layers of schools and clubs in a meaningful competition has, for some years, been a hot topic in Scottish rugby. But until recently such a move has been dismissed on the presumption that clubs were never sufficiently strong to mix it with the best of the independent schools.
Last weekend, Boroughmuir under-18s punctured that perception after emerging from the highly successful Merchiston Rugby Festival at Colinton as the highest placed Scottish side, signing off a memorable tournament with victory over the host school in the 3rd/4th place play-off.
Over the two-day event the Meggetland under-18s, produced five winning performances from their six matches, their scalps including the ultimate tournament winners Seaford College, as well as Uppingham School and Stewart’s-Melville College on the Saturday which gave Boroughmuir a top finish in their pool.
In Sunday’s re-ranked pool stage, Boroughmuir defeated fellow club standard-bearers, Stirling County, the group A winners, but then struggled against the sheer physicality of Bedford School, who fielded a side that would not have looked out of place in an under-20 competition, when going down to their only defeat of the tournament.
However, in that play-off against Merchiston, Boroughmuir rediscovered their mojo to secure a 5-0 victory.
Boroughmuir also scooped the Player-of-the-Tournament accolade, awarded to their dynamic back row, Liam McConnell, the son of former Selkirk player, Keith McConnell.
“Finishing as the top Scottish side was testament to the hard work the boys have put in through our Academy,” said Scott Anderson, Boroughmuir’s Academy director. “The Merchiston Festival is a great tournament. Six hard games over two days. Every game was a real tough match”.
Then, in a plea for parity with top schools rugby, he added: “Hopefully people are now listening to what’s happening. All the Scottish clubs who are at this tournament have all done well. We’ve shown that we can compete and play against top school sides from here and down south”
Roddy Deans, the Merchiston Director of Rugby, who was the driver behind creating this event, believes that the festival offers the opportunity for schools and clubs to test themselves in a different arena.
Speaking at the conclusion of the two-day event, he said: “I’m extremely happy with the way the tournament’s gone. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to run this [because of Covid] but so glad we did. The level of competition was high. On day one, there was some excellent rugby because the ball was dry. It was really good to see some of the clubs turning over top independent schools.
“The idea of the tournament is to help grow the game in Scotland and getting the clubs involved meant more competition. It was good for Merchiston to have more competitive games. Playing Boroughmuir exposed us to a different style of game. We had to fight fire with fire. It was a great game.
“The English teams bring another challenge because of size and physicality. So boys being able to adapt to that and finding ways of playing around them is good. To see some of the boys put their bodies in front of some of these English boys was amazing.’”
Merchiston finished top of their group on Saturday with wins over Wycliffe College (22-0) and Ayr (40-5) and a draw (7-7) against the tournament runners-up, Bedford College.
One place below Merchiston was George Watson’s College who defeated Stirling County 13-5 in the 5th/6th play-off match. That scoreline reversed the result between the two sides in Saturday’s pool stage when the Bridgehaugh youngsters, who like Watson’s were below strength, finished top of their pool having additionally defeated Merchiston’s B side and drawn with Colston’s School from Bristol.
Like Watson’s, Stewarts-Melville College were missing several first choice players, but as their coach Stuart Edwards explained: “We fielded a mixed side containing some of our better second team players.” As a consequence the Inverleith side struggled in what was a very strong pool on Saturday, albeit losing narrowly to the eventual winners Seaford College in an impressive performance before defeats to Boroughmuir and Uppingham School.
Also making their mark in the tournament was Ayr RFC, who showed their best form in Saturday’s pool stage when they ran a power-packed Bedford School close, losing by one score in a 14-19 thriller. Then, in a hard 7th/8th play-off match on Sunday, Ayr put in a defiant display before losing 13-5 to Colston’s School. Ayr coach Bryan Crossan is convinced that this is the type of competition clubs need.
He said: “We’re up here playing against the best of English and Scottish schools. If you’re going to raise the standard of club rugby you really need to get in with the schools. We need to bring schools and clubs together. That’s the future of the game.”
Final Placings: 1. Seaford College, 2. Bedford School, 3. Boroughmuir u18s, 4. Merchiston Castle School, 5. George Watson’s College, 6. Stirling County u18s, 7. Colston’s School, 8. Ayr u18s, 9. Uppingham School, 10. Stewart’s-Melville College, 11. Wycliffe College, 12. Merchiston B.
ELSEWHERE in under-18 rugby, Hawick Youth and EarlstonHS/Melrose Wasps are separated by just one point in the Borders Semi Junior League. Hawick Youth remain undefeated after achieving a 29-6 victory over Selkirk YC while Wasps were 28-5 winners over Kelso Quins.
Wasps’ tries came from centre Finn Douglas, flanker Ben Weir, centre Matthew Flannigan and prop Robbie Robinson, all four scores converted by stand-off Luke Townsend. Wasps’ coach Jerry Brett commented: “Probably the best start to a game we’ve made so far but Kelso did well to rein us in during the second half”. For Quins, Ashton Asante scored a try.
Another club in high scoring form was Gala Wanderers who inflicted a 51-17 defeat on Alnwick. Wanderers’ tries were scored by Fraser Wilson, Ker Johnston (3), Gregor Collins (2), Ricky Mitchell and James Glendinning.
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